Spesh and I are up by 6:30, off by 7, the earliest we’ve done this leg, in an effort to make it into Salida early. It’s one of our harder climbs on this leg, too: 1000 feet in 1.3 miles, so early, on a hurt foot.
The sun’s already up as we climb, although you wouldn’t know it – it’s dreary, near-dark, though the pictures my phone takes seem to be a little more optimistic. It’s terrible with light levels.
I’ve set a target goal of an hour, think I can stick to it. Spesh is bounding ahead, so far that sometimes I lose sight of him, but it doesn’t matter: I know I’m going to make it, and when he calls down to check on me I tell him so1.
The view’s majestic from up here, but also getting a little more foreboding.
I make it to the top at just under an hour, and get to be proud…
…for about thirty seconds, before Spesh encourages me to look around: dark clouds and rain off to our east, dark clouds and rain off to our west, ahead of us, a ridgewalk lasting miles, aaaand right on cue, a rumble of thunder. Spesh politely recommends we haul ass and not take breaks until we get a little lower, urges me to keep up, starts off at a grueling pace that, god knows how, I’m able to match.
A dash of motivation, a pinch of fear, and suddenly I’m slaughtering miles, keeping up with his three and a half to four mile an hour pace – with effort, but I’m maintaining. Spesh spooks a family of ptarmigans, strange little fuzzy-footed birds, as we round Bald Mountain, head a little lower.
I keep the pace up until we hit the next big hill at the Monarch Ski area, where I feel the familiar tightening in my throat that signifies a coming asthma attack2. I slow the hell down, struggle up the hill, am ready to be done with this section already.
We meander through the ski area, struggle with directions a little bit, before coming down a bit and going back up Old Monarch Pass. I’m confused with all the ups, many much up, when the highway – we can see Highway 50! – is so far down, but it climbs to meet us, and the path dumps us into the asphaulty embrace of Monarch Pass. My foot screeches as I skip across the road, into the Monarch Crest store.
We scan the register – Crankster, who we met in Twin Lakes, was just here today! I search the store for her, with no luck, but there are a few packs besides ours in the window, so maybe she’ll turn up. In the meantime, it’s buying postcards, stamps, and stuffing my face with entirely too much ice cream3.
In the middle of scoop two, Crankster shows up with a couple of CDT hikers, and introduces me to them as Rainbow – waitwaitwait, when did this happen? She casually explains that I’m colorful, my Tarptent’s a Rainbow, and we all saw a rainbow back in Twin Lakes when the weather was trying to decide what to do. Thus, Rainbow. I’m a little skeptical – I get the reasoning, but it doesn’t fit somehow, so I shrug it off. It’s not official until I respond to it, I hear, so we’ll see how it feels after resting up for a couple of days.
Crank sits with us while I finish my ice cream, talks about being lonely on the trail – far from my experiences of finding people to camp with and hike around, she’s been lonely since Frisco, where her sectioning friend left her after helping her ferry her car back to Durango. She’s also had especially bad weather of late, and been thinking about quitting. I make her an offer: some of my friends are coming down to celebrate my halfway mark at Mount Princeton Hot Springs on Saturday, and we’ve got a campsite for Friday and Saturday nights, so if she wanted to hang out and hike out Sunday morning, she was welcome to hike with me. She waffles for a bit, but decides it’s an offer she can’t refuse, and while I’m initially concerned – what did I just do, she’s probably faster than me, my foot’s hurt, ohgodDEFCON3, she’ll probably leave me – it’ll be nice to have the company. I do fess up – tell her about my foot and my farts, my slowness, full disclosure – but she’s more interested in the company than in necessarily making miles. So be it.
We spend a while hitching in the rain before Spesh decides to let the ladies try to get a hitch on their own, and Ryan from Louisville4 picks us up ten minutes later, includes Spesh in the bargain. Ryan’s working at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, and between our mutual work with Youth Corps, Spesh’s desire to take tour guests out there, and Callie’s aspirations to visit all the national parks, we chat all the way down into Salida. We’ve been lucky with hitches being rad this trip, and I hope it continues.
We’ve got an extra afternoon/evening in Salida that we weren’t planning on, so we look into lodging; the hostel in Salida’s booked for the evening, but the proprietor recommends the Wildwood Inn, and it doesn’t disappoint. We’ve got a queen and a rollaway in a quite-nice room, and I luxuriate in the shower while Spesh does laundry. Crank wanders off a little later out of politeness, but we all meet back up for Moonlight Pizza5 in the evening, before walking back to the Inn and sleep well past hiker midnight.
Start: 251.6 • End: 260.2 • Day: 8.6
Notable Accomplishments: Kept up on the ridgewalk! • SALIDA AND PIZZA • Found hiking buddy!
 Him: “You can make it!” Me: “In the words of Bender, ‘Shut up baby, I know it.'”
 I have rarely-occurring but diagnosed exercise-induced asthma. It rarely flares, and I can usually get it under control without medication; I’ve only had one incident in recent memory where, after
what felt like hours about 40 minutes trying not to panic breathing deeply but processing very little oxygen, a paramedic friend of mine decided I needed medication.
 One scoop was more than enough – those things are ENORMOUS – but I finished my two scoops like a real thruhiker. I felt ill after, but I finished.
 The proper, muddled-sounding one in Kentucky, not the one “close by” in the Front Range.
 As someone who ate pizza pretty much exclusively throughout her teenage years, I give it 5 stars.